When I first saw the trailer for Illumination Entertainment’s The Secret Life of Pets, I was immediately charmed by the concept. Being an animal lover, I was interested to see how the studio would approach this age old question and still make it unique from a slew of animal movies that have already come out. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that the film succeeded in doing that. As a matter of fact, it did not even match its predecessors in the genre.
The Secret Life of Pets revolves around the stories of animals who are left to fend for themselves when their owners are away, most particularly, Max (Louis C.K.), who has been with his owner Katie since he was a pup, and thus shares a unique relationship with his human. However, when Katie brings home a new dog from the pound named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), their rivalry leads them to an unlikely adventure which brings them face to face with the Flushed Pets, a group of animals abandoned by their owners, led by a deranged rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart). A rescue mission for Max and Duke, on the other hand is being led by a pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate), who has had a secret crush on Max for the longest time.
The film started out very fun and strong with the animals doing their own thing just as soon as their owners leave them. The film actually did a good job establishing Max’s loyalty to Katie which helped audiences understand his reaction to Duke better. But just as Duke arrives, things start to get predictable as the film’s focus shifts to become a rescue mission for the lost duo.
I understood that the film was trying to build up the relationship between Max and Duke to resemble something like Buzz and Woody of Toy Story, but because the plots were too similar, The Secret Life of Pets obviously fell short of the bar.
I didn’t feel the rapport between the two characters who were trying too hard to be funny and lovable, but just lacked the chemistry to make it work. I didn’t feel that kinship that should have been built in for the characters who spent the better part of the movie together. Gidget, on the other hand seemed too familiar. It felt like we’ve seen this character (cute but deadly) countless times before and therefore, there were no surprises left. She was neither funny nor cute. She was just — there. I know a lot of people will disagree but I truly felt disconnected to the characters in this film.
The only bright spot in this otherwise lukewarm animated flick was Kevin Hart’s Snowball because he was the only character worth watching in this entire film, sad to say. His was the only character who managed to convey any emotion, plus the execution of the character was cute. As a matter of fact, it was because of Snowball that I was compelled to root for the sewer animals rather than the domestics.
As far as dramatics, the film also fell short by trying to build the backstory of Duke. It would have made a moving element of the story if only the resolution was not abrupt. (SPOILER) After Duke learns that his human died, there was no ample time to process the news before he is subsequently nabbed by animal control. And then there was no more mention of his grief — he seems to have moved on and ahead with Katie and Max.
Towards the end however, I was touched by the last scenes when the owners finally arrive back home to see their pets waiting for them. I love how the animals’ love for their humans were so clearly communicated in different ways and audiences just feel that unconditional love from the pets’ actions.
All in all, I thought that it was the shame that the main strength of the movie, which was the relationship of the humans and their pets, was sidetracked to deliver a story that has been done countless times before, with the execution leaving a lot to be desired. In the end it was meh. Such a shame because I had high hopes for this one, but with its generic effort, it left me far from impressed.